Ethics and New Waterfowlers

By Ian Bartelmez, WWA Education Committee Chair

This article originally appeared in Wisconsin Waterfowl Association’s October Newsletter edition.

I’m writing this month’s article from duck camp in central North Dakota, surrounded by a great group of fellow WWA members, some long-time, some intermediate, a lifer and our mother hen on theses annual “research trips”, our soon-to-be-retired regional director, Tom Seibert. All in all, a great crew. But the most important member of the crew this year just just joined WWA this past spring.

Why does this matter? What does it have to do with education? I will tell you, dear reader! Up until this year, I have usually been the youngest person in this group, and let’s  be honest, 40 is maybe not so young. A few other “younger” participants we’ve had in the past have been 30-ish, but also long-time waterfowlers. Our newest member in duck camp is 27, and he just started waterfowling last year. It has been a privilege to mentor him last season and all summer, practicing on the “sporties” course. Yesterday, opening day, he shot his very first duck. Actually, his very first game animal, period! It was a great moment as my lab, Jade, made her first ever duck retrieve (for me), and to watch this young man harvest his first duck. A plump drake blue winged teal he correctly identified.

The newest member of duck camp and his first duck!

So here we go, to quote the late, great Patrick F. McManus, “ethics and what to do about them?”.  Ethics are a part of outdoor education. In one meaning, don’t break the law, etc. But I want to address another ethic, the personal ethics in our new waterfowlers.

Pile Culture:

Specifically, social media pile culture and the shame if your crew doesn’t have a pile.  Sometimes it feels like all I see on my social media accounts are images showing pile, pile, pile, 5 man limit, 9 man limit, the disclaimer, 2 birds off a 7 man limit. Yes, if you are fortunate enough to take a big bag of ducks, please be proud, but why don’t we see more of the, “well we went and only pulled in 3, but it was a great morning!”? Or, “we didn’t see much but it was still a great morning.”?

Why is the reaction to a non “successful” day of hunting all too often a, “Har-de-har-har, he posted sunrise pictures. Loser.”? Wow. This “pile” culture has the younger/newer hunters so pile obsessed that they feel like it wasn’t a good day unless they have a limit, or 1 from the limit.

Where did we as waterfowlers miss the turn to, “it’s ok to only shoot 1, or none, as long as YOU had a good day outdoors.”?

We as responsible sportsmen and women need to remember it’s not all about the kill.

Between the five of us in the glorious duck factory yesterday, we collectively harvested five birds. GASP! Why would you admit that? Two of our crew are 65+, and one has so little experience he was overwhelmed. And we had two dogs who had never been here before. But, as I said, watching these men who have mentored me over the years (and I didn’t even realize I was being mentored!), men I look up to in almost fatherly reverence, and now “Little Buddy”, my first waterfowl mentee (I have taught people to shoot, upland hunt and deer hunt, but never was I confident enough about waterfowl until he put me on the spot, kinda the little brother I never wanted), watching the harvested birds and my little girl Jade go for her first retrieve, how could I not have had a great day worthy of shouting to the hills?

Limits come and go (no matter how skilled you are, luck is always a factor, stay humble), but great days with great hunting partners, well, those are limited as well.

So, we need to teach ourselves and others that while it may be an amazing feeling, a pile of birds doesn’t make the day.

We all went through the blood lust phase: “more, more, more, hahaha, I need targets!” But the majority of us grow out of it. Some days, though, it still seems like a pile of game is more important to too many of us than the memories. We have the memories on Facebook and Instagram, I suppose, but when did getting 75 “likes” become more fulfilling than looking at a picture on the mantle or wall? My mantle is filled with the best memories of my life, both sporting and not. From our wedding day, to my granddad posing with the now-mine Ithaca 16 double, to photos of great hunts with great people. It is not filled with pictures of piles of ducks.

Learn the ethic of enjoying the hunt, no matter what the day brings, and then please teach, or gently remind, others that a pile of game should be no measure of the day’s success.

And now, Jade and I are going to plan tomorrow’s duck demise strategy.

HAPPY hunting everybody!

Speaking of piles, my next column will focus on tags: toe tags, waterfowl tags, what are they and when did they become a thing?